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Communicating Effectively Today

July 2011

In today’s world, we are bombarded with information all the time. It comes quickly in bucket loads and it is often difficult to wade through the words to find the essence. In most companies currently there is a common refrain from the leadership – we communicate, but cannot seem to be taken seriously, or listened to. The common refrain from the employees is – we don’t get enough communication, we are kept in the dark, etc. So how to communicate effectively with a sceptical, information overloaded workforce?

Roger D’Aprix’s book, “The Credible Company Communicating with Today’s Skeptical Workforce”, published by Jossey-Bass, 2008, is one of the great guides to use. His eight Principles of Communicating Effectively are:

Information – reliable, accurate, timely
Needs of the Audience
Face-to-face communication
Marketplace and workplace

Easily remembered as INFORMS

A credible company is one that can tell a story in such a way that an otherwise sceptical workforce will understand it and for the most part, embrace it.


  • Informing people is a process, not a project

  • Intellectual capital is created from human knowledge and experience

  • Communication people need to get involved in the nitty-gritty of the organisation

  • Advances in technology has created an environment where people feel no escape from work or from listening to unwanted, one-sided communication

  • Long distance relationships without face-to-face connection ultimately don’t provide the kind of reciprocity and support that contribute to wellbeing and a sense of psychological security and happiness


This is all about people – what they need and what they want to know in order to create an engaged workforce.

Texas Instruments has identified three needs of an individual in the workplace:

  1. Job Mastery - Understand what is expected, and therefore achieve competence

  2. Predictability - If I do this, this is the likely consequence.
    This covers both positive and negative behaviours

  3. Loved - Recognised as a highly valued member of the organisation

Towers Perrin described an engaged workforce as:

  1. Visible senior leadership team

  2. Dedication to learning, skills enhancement and career development

  3. Effective frontline management and supervision

  4. Well thought out and equitable reward strategy, well communicated and effectively implemented

  5. Company has a solid reputation as an employer


This is the most preferred means of communication, live and face-to-face. This way, people can see whether you are being open. It also demonstrates accessibility and non-defensive behaviour. It is also important to remember that communication is not an extra-curricular activity, when you have some spare time.

In every manager/employee relationship, the following questions need to be answered face-to-face:


  • What is my job?

  • How am I doing?

  • Does anyone care?

Employee and Manager

  • How are we doing?

  • What are our vision, mission, and values?

  • How can I help?


  • Willingness to make information widely available

  • Avoid unnecessary secrecy and complex justification of who needs to know what

  • The risks are far higher for an organisation that keeps employees in the dark

  • Jack Stack of SRC Holdings Corporation defined three levels of ignorance that will derail any attempt at effective communication:

    • Top management’s presumption that the workforce is incapable of understanding.

    • Employees are ignorant of why senior leaders are doing what they are doing – they then chalk it up to greed and stupidity.

    • Middle management are kept in the dark regarding leadership actions and motives. This results in them constantly being torn between supporting senior management and having to explain decisions to the workforce.


Organisations need to gather information to justify change and new strategies, not just shoot from the hip. Larry Bossidy of Honeywell coined the phrase “burning platform”. People caught on a burning oilrig out at sea have two choices – remain on the platform and die, or take a chance to jump into the freezing water and hope that they will be rescued in time. It is key that organisations do not create the false impression that there is a burning platform when there is not. However, when there is one, facts must be available to back up the assertion.

In order to determine the facts, research must be done through interviews, focus groups and looking at best practice. A state-of-the-art communication process is one where:

  • There is a large degree of employee engagement

  • The value of a communication programme is acknowledged by the employees

  • All communication content is aligned with and supportive of business goals

  • There is effective leader and line manager communication

  • Communication promotes cross-collaboration

  • Communication affects employee behaviour positively


The global business world is currently experiencing turbulent change which is not slowing down. Plus, the marketplace in which organisations operate is growing significantly. Thomas Friedman has defined it as triple convergence:

  1. Creation of web-enabled playing fields that allows for sharing of knowledge, work and collaboration on a global scale in real time

  2. Collaborators work comfortably in horizontal playing fields, e.g. supply chain. One person can query needs of a customer, sell them a computer, instruct it to be manufactured in China and have it delivered to the customer’s home

  3. Liberation of three billion people in Eastern Europe, Russia, China and India

All eyes must be turned outward to the marketplace.


All communication processes must align to a strategy, else it becomes reactive. The strategy creates a rational line of sight.As Sun Tzu said:

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without
strategy is the noise before defeat”.